How Do We Prove Our Marriage Is Real?

Proof of a bona fide marriage is a requirement in the application of a marriage-based visa and at a green card interview. A U.S citizen whose spouse lives abroad must show proof that the marriage is real while filing the Form I-130 Petition For Alien Relative. The immigrant spouse living abroad will also need to give the same proof to the US Embassy or consulate in their home country during their green card interview.

What Is A Bona Fide Marriage?

A bona fide marriage is defined as one where the couple intends to build their future together, and not to get married for immigration purposes. Some applicants may decide to get married to a US citizen so they may be entitled to the immigrant benefits of a foreign spouse, such as obtaining a marriage-based green card. An immigrant who has a green card is allowed to live and work anywhere in the United States.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) scrutinizes the authenticity of such international marriages so that they may rule out any malicious intentions. The two most common ways for such couples to prove that their marriage is bona fide are by providing supporting documents of the marriage and answering the green card interview questions.

Proof That A Marriage Is Bona Fide By Providing Documents

The first step in the application of a marriage-based green card begins with the U.S citizen spouse or a lawful permanent resident filing Form I-130 Petition For Alien Relative. The proof of marriage documents must accompany this petition. These documents include the following:

A Marriage Certificate

A marriage certificate is the most common proof of marriage. A marriage union is regarded as legal depending on the laws of the jurisdiction where the marriage took place. This is called the place of celebration rule. However, there are a few types of unions that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services does not recognize as legal marriages. These are:

  • Polygamous marriages (where one spouse is married to several partners)
  • Proxy marriages (where one of the couples is not present during the ceremony)
  • Marriages for immigration purposes in the U.S.
  • Civil unions
  • Domestic partnerships

Same-sex marriages and marriages with transgender persons are considered legal unions in the U.S.

It is the responsibility of the applicants to prove to the immigration officials that their marriage is valid. If the application lacks sufficient evidence to show the marriage is legal, it maybe rejected by immigration officers. The applicants need to give more evidence that proves the union is real and has existed for quite some time. Here are some of the documents that can be used to verify that the union is not a planned scheme to achieve immigration benefits:

Proof Of Joint Financial Account Or Investments

As defined earlier, a bona fide marriage must show that the couple plan to build their future together. One of the many ways of doing so is by having a joint financial accounts or investments. For example, if you and your spouse have a joint bank account, you may present the statements from these accounts as proof. If you have other assets that you share as a couple, you may use official documents of these investments as evidence of the authenticity of the relationship. These documents may include the following:

  • Deeds and titles of properties with joint ownership by the couple
  • Mortgage documents that indicate the couple has joint responsibility for making payments
  • Health insurance policies that show both spouses are under the same cover
  • Life insurance policies that indicate either spouse as the primary beneficiary of the other
  • Credit card statements that show either partner is authorized to use the card

Proof That The Couple Have Children Together

If the couple has a child or children who they are taking care of, they may provide the children’s documentation to the USCIS to strengthen their proof of an authentic relationship. These children do not need to be the biological children of the couple. They could be from their previous relationships or adopted; it does not matter. Here are the documents that may be presented as evidence:

  • Copies of birth certificates of the children
  • Copies of adoption certificates
  • Copies of school records or medical records that mention the stepparent as the immediate contact person in case the stepchildren have an emergency

If the couple does not have children of their own and they wish to have one, original copies of doctor’s appointments for fertility treatments or a pregnancy test may be presented as proof.

If the couple has lived together with their children, they may also provide photos of the family together on vacations, ceremonies, or at home.

Proof That The Couple Live Together

Many married couples move in together after their marriage. If you live together with your immigrant spouse, you may provide the following documents as evidence:

  • Utility bills receipts under the couple’s names
  • Mortgage or lease under the couple’s names
  • Property deeds and title that show homeownership under the couple’s names

If the couple lives together, they are presumed to be sharing the same address. Therefore, the USCIS may expect that some documents show the same physical address of the couple. You may also submit documents addressed individually to the couple but sent to the same addresses to accompany your application. These documents include the following:

  • Insurance statements
  • Drivers license
  • Joint bank account statements
  • Unofficial letters such as those from friends and family members.

What If The Couple Do Not Live Together?

It is not a requirement that a married couple lives together. There are several reasons that may cause married couples to live in different residences or even cities. The USCIS will need a genuine explanation as to why the couple lives, apart especially after their marriage. In most cases, each spouse will be required to write a letter to the USCIS explaining their decision to live apart. In these letters, the spouses will need to explain the reasons, how soon they intend to move in together, and in what location if they have already made the decision.

Some of the genuine reasons why married couples may live apart may be due to working in different cities or going to school in different cities.

Other Ways To Prove The Authenticity Of A Relationship

The USCIS will also want to be sure that there was a real relationship before the couple actually got married. There has to be evidence that the couple built a reasonable relationship that led to marriage through courtship. Here are some documents that may provide evidence of a real relationship:

  • Evidence of regular communication between the couple, for example, copies of phone records
  • Original photos that can easily tell the relationship journey of the couple
  • Copies of letters and cards sent to each other
  • Evidence that the couple have visited each other severally in the past (especially the U.S. based citizen spouse visit to the immigrant spouse’s home country)
  • Original copies of photos of the couple with mutual friends and family
  • Original copies of wedding photos
  • Original copies of receipts for gifts the couple sent to each other

The USCIS will take a keen look at all the evidence submitted to them for proof of a bona fide marriage. If the evidence is not sufficient enough to convince the immigration officers, they will not consider the green card application as genuine.

What Documents Are Considered Strong Evidence Of A Bona Fide Marriage?

The USCIS has a guide that ranks documents that are considered as strong evidence of a real marriage against those that are considered less convincing or weaker evidence. Here is a brief outline of the evidence and their rankings:

Strong evidence

  • Joint lease and mortgages
  • Joint bank accounts statements
  • Joint utility bills
  • Insurance covers for the couple
  • Wills

Average Evidence

  • Travel history for the couple
  • Separate utility bills
  • Phone records
  • Text messages
Weak Evidence
  • Plane tickets
  • Photos of the couple
  • Travel history of one spouse
  • Gift cards
  • Couple’s tickets to a game or movie date

Proof That A Marriage Is Bona Fide At The Green Card Visa Interview

The second opportunity for a couple to prove the authenticity of their marriage is during a green card visa interview. The couple will be invited to separate interviews. This will also depend on the location of the spouse seeking the marriage-based green card.

If The Spouse Seeking Green Card Lives Abroad

The immigrant spouse will attend the interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate of their county, to be conducted by a consular officer. The invitation to an interview is the last stage before the immigrant spouse is awarded a green card after a successful green card application process. The consular officer will be seeking to further authenticate the green card application as well as the relationship between the couple.

If The Spouse Seeking Green Card Lives In The United States

The spouse will be invited to their local USCIS field office, along with their sponsoring spouse. The interview will be conducted by a USCIS officer who may choose to interview the couple together or separately. In many cases, if the couple is interviewed separately, it may indicate that the officer may not be fully satisfied with the evidence provided, or maybe suspicious of the authenticity of the relationship.

Some Questions To Expect During A Green Card Interview

There is no particular script of questions asked at the marriage-based green card interview. However, most questions that the interviewing officer may ask are quite easy. The questions help the officer prove that the evidence given along with the application is authentic and that the couple can relate to it as well.

The questions will also help the officer prove that the marriage is bona fide. The spouses must be as honest as possible with the information they decide to give to the interviewing officer. If the officer suspects that either of the couple or both are willingly providing misleading information for the purpose of influencing the results of the interview, their application may be denied. Such a mistake may affect the immigrant spouse’s future applications for a green card.

Here are some groups of common questions that the couple may be asked, whether interviewed together or separately:

Questions About The Couple’s Relationship History

  • When and how did you meet?
  • Where was your first date?
  • How long did you date before getting engaged to each other?
  • How did the proposal happen?

Questions About The Couple’s Wedding

  • When is your wedding anniversary?
  • Who did you invite to your wedding?
  • How many guests attended your wedding?
  • Were your parents present at the wedding?
  • Were there any traditional wedding rituals performed at the wedding? If yes, which ones?
  • Where did you go for your honeymoon?

Questions About The Couple’s Routines

  • How do you start your day?
  • At what time does your spouse go to work?
  • What do you do when you spend the day at home together with your spouse?
  • Which of you likes to do laundry?
  • Which one of you likes cooking?
  • What activities do you do together as a couple?

Questions About The Couple’s Children (If applicable)

  • Who takes your children to school?
  • What is the favorite subject of your child?
  • What is the name of your child’s teacher?
  • What food does your child like?

Questions About Couple’s Family

  • What is the most important holiday for the family?
  • What gifts did you get each other during a recent celebration?
  • What is your partner’s birthday?
  • How did you celebrate your partner’s recent birthday?

Some of these questions may be personal. The interviewer may ask these questions to help establish the relationship status further. Here are some sample questions that may be personal:

  • Do you use any birth control methods? If yes, which ones?
  • Does your partner have any distinctive birthmarks or tattoo drawings on their bodies?
  • What side of the bed do you sleep?
  • Have you ever experienced any marital disputes? What was it about and how did you resolve them?

Special Instances Where Some Documents Are Missing

There are some instances where the green card applicant may be missing important documents that may be needed to prove the authenticity of the relationship. For example, documents that require a social security number are not be issued to a foreign national who entered the U.S. with a tourist visa. Therefore, such a foreign spouse is not eligible for a social security number because of their non-immigrant status.

Both the green card applicant and the sponsoring spouse will be required to have more evidence to support the relationship status of their relationship. Some of these documents may be:

  • The couple’s travel documents such as plane tickets of the same flight and hotel reservations
  • Couple photos
  • Personal statements from family and friends who have knowledge of the couple’s marriage

You may need to hire the services of an immigration attorney to help you with your application in such a situation. A qualified immigration attorney is more familiar with the immigration laws, and would be able to give you the best legal advice to help you with your application, and also how to prove the authenticity of your marriage.

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